Adventures In Audio
Digitech Vocal Harmony Processors (part 2)

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Thursday January 1, 2004

The Studio 5000 is a 1U rack mounting unit, which seems to be no more than
a multi-effects unit should occupy these days, now matter how much functionality
it contains. On the rear panel you will find stereo ins and outs, and you can
easily hook up the unit in mono if you find this more convenient. The LCD display
is nice and bright, but you will find that there are rather a lot of small buttons
to press. The buttons have a very rubbery feel and don't offer a positive click
in response to an action by the user. With forethought and patience however,
great things are possible. Many users will spend their first few weeks with
the unit exploring the presets, and there is nothing like a new selection of
sounds to get the creative juices flowing. I found that I was able to multiply
the four hundred factory presets in my Korg keyboard by the one hundred presets
in the Studio 5000 to get 40,000 new and exciting sounds. Why should I ever
want to buy another keyboard? And before you ask, I haven't tried them all yet!
Presets are split into two main groups, the mono bank and the stereo bank. Starting
off with the mono bank, the first ten presets are obviously designed to show
off the range of capabilities of the Studio 5000 with octave doublings and detunings
in varying degrees of subtlety, some with delays. Presets 9 and 10 are, rather
surprisingly, distortion programs, and they were not thrown in just to add to
the feature list. They are really rather good. After the first ten, effects
come in groups: Detune Combinations, Chorus, Flange, Chord Shifting, Intelligent
Harmony, Amplifier/Speaker simulations and Special Effects. With a list of effects
and brief descriptions to hand, it is easy to home in on something approaching
the sound you are looking for and resist the temptation just to spin the dial
at random. The stereo presets are fewer in number but no less tempting. The
first ten are called 'Mix Imager Programs', which really translates as 'Thickeners'.
I liked these for their subtlety, because they really do give a useful thickening
effect, but it isn't always obvious how it is achieved. With an ordinary pitch
shifter it is easy to set one output slightly sharp in pitch, the other slightly
flat, to give a thick sound, but it is always perfectly obvious that the sound
is effected and what was done to it. Here, you can tell that there is some chorus,
delay, pitch shifting, reverb or whatever, but the finished sound nearly always
comes out as though it was meant to be that way. The other stereo presets are
grouped into Stereo Keyboard Programs, Drum Programs, Stereo Vocal Programs
and Special Effects. Two presets that are especially worthy of mention are 'Drum
Bright Kit' which is an excellent reverb - something I didn't expect on a unit
of this type - and Stereo Sampler. Stereo Sampler offers an editable three second
stereo or six second mono memory which you can use to take bits from the multitrack
and spin them in at other places in the song. Of course you can do this with
your Akai, Emu or Roland, but it's nice to be able to do this in the context
of pure sound rather than music and MIDI and it's quite easy once you have the
hang of it.

Of course, no matter how good the presets are you'll tire of them and want
to create your own eventually. Won't you? The Studio 5000 may seem to have a
lot of buttons, but this is where you'll find them very useful. The best way
to approach editing is to pick a preset that is close to the sound you require,
and then press the button corresponding to the component of the effect that
you want to change. The effects library includes Harmony, Shift, Delay, Chorus,
Flange, Dynamic Filter, EQ, Compression, Gate, Sample and More. What does 'More'
include? For many of the programs 'More' means reverb. And as I said, the reverb
is pretty good. Of course, any unit of this type has a limited amount of processing
power, so not all the effects are available at the same time. But when you have
found a preset that incorporates all the components you require, just select
the required one and then press edit. A small number of relevant parameters
will be made available for adjustment. There is of course a compromise to be
struck here. Too many parameters and it would be to complex to be usable, too
few and you won't get the sound you want. I think Digitech has it about right,
I don't think any of us want to spend our lives editing effects programs.

It would easily be possible to fill a book with the possibilities of the Studio
5000, and indeed the manual writers have. Let me say that for keyboard players,
guitarists and engineers, the Studio 5000 offers a wealth of creative possibilities
at a high level of quality. You will need a lot of time an patience to explore
them all, but I am sure that your input will be rewarded. Even if you don't
want to do any editing, the Studio 5000 has a good enough range of presets to
offer a whole new perspective on any instrument you care to connect to it

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